Hawker Hunter FR-10

Hunter FR-10 of 54 Sqn

The Hawker Hunter was Britain's most successful post-war jet aircraft and arguably the most graceful jet fighter ever designed. But like most jet aircraft of that era, the Hunter beginnings were beset with problems. The Hunter was originally designed as a replacement for the Gloster Meteor, initial design work began in 1948 and the prototype, known then as the P1067, first flew on 20 Jul 51 in the hands of Hawker's Chief Test Pilot, Neville Duke. The engines for the first production run were split between The Rolls Royce AJ.55 Avon and Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire, just in case development problems occurred with the AJ.55.

Hunter FR-10

The Hunter F1 entered RAF service as a day interceptor with 43 Sqn in Jul 54. Further development work continued and the Hunter F2, F3 and F4 followed on rapidly to improve the early aircraft's poor endurance and limited weapons. The Hunter F4, which first entered service in 1955, was probably the first really effective Hunter, and with increased fuel capacity and the ability to carry underwing stores, this aircraft was immediately popular with pilots. The Sapphire powered F5 was rapidly followed by the F6 with a much more powerful Avon engine. By then, with the Lightning on the horizon, the days of the Hunter being a really effective interceptor were numbered and development concentrated on developing the Hunter's ground attack capability.

Hunter FR Mk4

Hawker quickly realised the potential of the Hunter in the Fighter Reconnaissance role and decided to test the concept. Hawker modified a company trials Hunter Mk4 by installing five cameras in the nose purely for use as a test aircraft. Four of the cameras looked obliquely and the fifth looked forward through the tip of the nose and was protected by shutters. Although the RAF was already considering the Swift FR5, it immediately realised that the Hunter would be a better long-term bet and began to outline a new FR specification. Air Ministry Specification FR.164D was issued to Hawker in 1957 and outlined the development of the Hunter F6 into a reconnaissance fighter. The FR-10 incorporated the tail parachute and 230 drop tank capability of the FGA9 Hunter, a UHF radio, a sub-miniature radio compass, a Wirek voice recorder and three nose cameras. Using the 230 gallon tanks the FR-10 achieved a LO-LO radius of 240nm and a HI-LO-HI radius of 570nm.

Hunter FR-10 of 54 Sqn

A total of 33 FR-10 aircraft were built and deliveries started in Sep 60. The aircraft equipped 2 and 4 squadrons, based at RAF Gutersloh in Germany and four or five aircraft were also assigned to 1417 Flight based in Aden. Several other Hunter squadrons were issued with one or two FR-10's to give them a photo-reconnaissance capability. The aircraft remained in service until 1971/72 when they were phased out of RAF service with the introduction of the F-4 Phantom. The RN also operated four Hunter PR-11s, these were Mk 11 Hunters equipped with an FR10 cameras nose, but these aircraft were not used for operational duties and were flown by FRADU to help work-up ships crews before operational deployments.

Hunter FR-10

The Hunter FR-10 is considered by many to be the best fighter-reconnaissance aircraft ever built. It was a 'gentleman's aircraft', a delight to fly, had no unpleasant 'vices', with plenty of performance and was easy to maintain. However, like most aircraft of that era, it lacked decent avionics, internal fuel capacity and was only really effective in clear weather. Nevertheless, the Hunter FR-10 era at Gutersloh was a legendary time and many visiting aircrew, who wandered downstairs in the Officers' Mess on Fridays evenings to be greeted by a flooded Keller Bar and Hunter pilots paddling around in survival dinghy's, or who were pursuaded to stand underneath the 'bending beam' in Gorings Room, must have wondered what on earth was going on.

RhAF Hawker Hunter FGA9 - fighter recce

A little known aspect of Hawker Hunter operations is the ingenious adaptation of a number of Hunter FGA9 aircraft by the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF) to undertake fighter reconnaissance missions during the countries bloody struggle with nationalist guerrillas in the early 1970’s.

RhAF Hunter FGA9

The RRAF had forged strong links with the RAF during WW2 and this close relationship continued through into the 1960’s when the RRAF was looking to replace their DH Vampire fighters. In Jan 1960 a goodwill visit to Rhodesia was made by a detachment from 8 Sqn of the RAF, who had recently been re-equipped with the Hunter FGA9. The visit made a significant impression on various politicians and the RRAF and only three months later it was formally announced that it had ordered 12 Hunter F6 aircraft, refurbished to FGA9 standard. The first RRAF Hunter arrived on 20 Dec 60 and by 15 May 63 the final aircraft was delivered to 1 Sqn at RRAF Thornhill, near Gwelo in the Central Highlands, bringing the squadron up to its full strength of 12 aircraft.

The Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence on 11 Nov 65, together with the subsequent embargo on logistical back up from the UK, caused immediate engineering support problems. After UDI the RRAF was renamed the Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF). The fact that the RhAF were able to keep most of the aircraft flying right to the cessation of hostilities, despite the sanctions, speaks volumes for the clever ingenuity and improvisation employed by the engineering staff of 1 Sqn RhAF.

RhAF Hunter FGA9 with the drop tank camera pod

Although the RhAF’s main reconnaissance asset was provided by a number of English Electric Canberras, in early 1966 a staff officer at the RhAF HQ, Sqn Ldr Don Brenchley, began an initiative to give the Hunters a reconnaissance capability. Engineers at 1 Sqn modified the front end of a 100-gallon fuel tank into a camera pod by installing three F95 cameras. One camera faced forward and the other two were obliques, giving an overlapping view to port and starboard, as well as vertically under the aircraft. The camera controls were fairly basic, enabling the pilot to operate the forward camera separately as the aircraft approached the target, followed by the verticals as the aircraft passed over the target. Although this modification was fairly rudimentary, it worked well and the drop tank camera pod proved capable of providing clear overlapping photographs from low passes at 200ft and 400+ kts. For reconnaissance sorties the 100-gal drop tank camera pod was always carried on the port outer pylon, with a normal 100-gal tank on the starboard pylon and 200-gal tanks on both the inner pylons. Hunter reconnaissance sorties were usually flown from RhAF New Sarum, near Salisbury as that station had a better equipped photographic section than Thornhill.

RhAF Hunter FGA9s at Thornhill

The drop tank camera pod was used successfully on many sorties throughout the ‘Bush War’ and the Hunters gave sterling service to the RhAF. Of the 12 original Hunters, one was lost to a technical defect and two were lost to ground fire. Only one Hunter pilot was lost during the ‘Bush War’ - Air Lt B K Gordon died when he was shot down on 3 Oct 79 whilst attacking a Frelimo Column near Chimoio in Mozambique. After the end of the ‘Bush War’ and the creation of Zimbabwe, the Hunters remained at Thornhill as part of the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ). However, in the early hours of 25 Jul 82, five of the surviving Hunters were destroyed in a series of explosions, committed either by dissident white AFZ personnel, or by South African Special Forces, depending on who you choose to believe. However, I imagine that many of the ex-RhAF personnel who had struggled so hard for throughout the long, difficult years of the ‘Bush War’ to keep those Hunters flying, would have much preferred to see them destroyed in a final, fiery ‘Gotterdammerung’, than survive to support the new regime headed by ex-guerrillas. The destroyed Hunters were replaced by other FGA9s delivered from Britain and Kenya between 1981-7, but the exodus of many white engineers made it increasingly difficult for the Hunters to be kept serviceable. One or two Hunters struggled on and eventually the last aircraft were finally retired in Jan 2002.